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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Peter Racine Fricker, The String Quartets, Villiers Quartet

English composer Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990) made something of a mark on the new music scene in the later forties-early fifties with a number of prize winning and commissioned works. After that he continued on with excellent music but perhaps operated more in the shadows.

In his lifetime he wrote four works for quartet that have been gathered together in The String Quartets (Naxos 8.571374), played with intense concentration and precision by the Villiers Quartet.

The works span a long period between 1943 and 1976. They show a serious and somewhat somber demeanor, filled with a modern chromatic expansiveness (No. 3 is in a serial mode) that borders on severity.

A marked brilliance of craft pervades all four works. Somewhere between later Bartok and, eventually, mid-Elliot Carter in manner of intent rather than imitation, the quartets consistently espouse a serious uncompromising modern expression as the subject matter.

There is growth and change to be heard when following chronologically the thread of expression from the "Adagio and Scherzo" of 1943, the Quartet No. 1 Op. 8 of 1948-1949, the Quartet No. 2 Op.20 of 1952-53 and the Quartet No. 3 of 1976. Three of the four works are in first recordings, surprising given the quality and singularity of this music.

I heartily recommend this volume for anyone with a serious interest in the modern period and in English composers of last century. This is very enlightening and provocative music, performed with zeal and care.


  1. Hi Grego, you might be interested to know that Lyrita have recently issued a CD featuring cleaned-up off-air recordings of Fricker's oratorio The Vision of Judgement (definitely up there with Walton's Belshazzar's Feast in terms of impact and quality!) and his 5th Symphony (which features an important concertante part for organ). There are also numerous other off-air recordings on YouTube of works of his that haven't (yet) received the Lyrita treatment; many of them can be found on James Stuart's channel. Finally, I'd recommend investigating other radical British contemporaries of Britten and Tippett such as Humphrey Searle, Elizabeth Lutyens (daughter of architect Edwin) and Iain Hamilton; the first two of these were firmly wedded to Serialism, the last less so.

  2. Thanks, Chris,
    As usual you impress with your knowledge of the British folks. Much to check out there. I and my readers appreciate it!

  3. This Brit is glad to be of service...!